The provincial government announced more than $300 million in capital funding for schools across B.C. Monday, but the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District was absent from the list of recipients.
In all, the province announced money to build nine new schools and four school additions, as well as buy six school sites.
The bulk of the funding goes to the Surrey school district, one of the few districts with growing student enrollment.
Secretary-treasurer Wayne Jefferson said while Maple Ridge didn’t receive funding for a new school, he is optimistic the district will be included in future capital funding announcements.
New school funding across the province has been largely static for the past five years, he noted, so Monday’s announcement is a positive sign.
“This shows they are actually addressing the issue, the need for capital funds,” he said.
“There’s been large pent up demand, but it’s now being recognized as a priority.”
However, board chair Ken Clarkson was disappointed the local school district wasn’t included in the funding announcement.
“I understand there is a need in Surrey, but there is a need here as well,” he said.
“I think the time is right.”
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District has been looking for capital funding from the provincial government for more than five years to build a new elementary school in the Albion neighbourhood of east Maple Ridge. The school district already owns property on 104th Avenue, where it intends to build the new school.
Last year, the district passed up seven new modular classrooms offered by the provincial government to help house students with the implementation of all-day Kindergarten, instead using existing portables to save the provincial ministry about $3 million.
“We did all of that in mind with a new school in Albion,” said Clarkson. “We have to keep working to that end.”
In the past decade, the education ministry has spent $37.2 million in capital projects in School District No. 42, including the construction of Samuel Robertson Technical Secondary School, and the recent renovation of Garibaldi Secondary School.
Over that same span, the local school district has shut five schools due to falling enrollment: Thornhill elementary, Meadowland elementary, Maple Ridge primary, Mt. Crescent elementary, and Riverside elementary.
Clarkson said he doesn’t believe there will be a need to close schools in the district any time soon, as the district’s falling enrollment is starting to bottom out. However, when considering the east Maple Ridge area, enrollment has increased steadily during that time.
Presently, the three elementary schools in the area – Albion, Alexander Robinson, and Kanaka Creek – are all over capacity and are relying on portables and modular classrooms to house students.
Albion elementary is the most overcrowded school in the district, with more than 550 students, despite being built for 425. The school has had to install five portable classrooms for this fall to accommodate the overflow, while some parents have had to be turned away.
The district now operates a school bus service for students in the area to take them to nearby elementary schools, such as Blue Mountain, Webster’s Corners, and Harry Hooge.